Enterprise IT Consultant Views on Technologies and Trends

Jul 22 2010   12:09AM GMT

Using Search Engines Effectively

Sasirekha R Profile: Sasirekha R

Last month when I started the Browser – where the default is Google, I suddenly got a “Captcha” from Google asking me to prove that “I am human”. Thankfully I could do so, after typing the letters that appeared in the image and able to enter Google.  Just when trying to figure out what this is all about, located technorati.com/blogging/article/dear-google-i-amhuman/ which has interesting points including the possibility of payment for search coming into place – probably for business use only.


Leaving that payment part alone, it was suggested that the people who use sophisticated search commands are the ones that are most suspected to be robots, I thought it is worth looking at what those sophisticated search commands are and also if it is applicable for all search engines (as Google payment point make it a safer way to become familiar and comfortable with other search engines).


By the way, Google states that even the most advanced searchers use these additional search features only 5% of the time and the basic search meets the demand for most users. When looked further realized that these are actually simple features and yet can prove effective.


The following Basic Search facts are worth re-iterating:

·         All the words” are used in the search

·         Of course, there are exceptions. Common words like ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘the’, ‘for’ – referred to as stop words – are usually ignored (Even this has Exceptions as the result of the search engine trying to imitate human thinking.).

·         At times, pages which do not contain some words in your search still appear in the list – as they are considered relevant by the search engine – thanks to the language analysis Google has done.

·         Search is always “Case-insensitive

·         Punctuation is ignored.

·         Exception is in case of popular terms like C++, C#, $ etc.

·         All special characters including @#$%^&*()=+[]\ are ignored.



Next let me list some of the search tips from Google. Google reminds us that Search engine is not a human and is a program that matches the words to web pages. So the tips, do sound commonplace.

·         Keep it simple – When looking for specific information on a company, person or place, just typing the name should suffice. If the focus is on the ones limited to a geography, then adding the name of the place, and zip/postal code is recommended.

·         No need to form complete sentences – especially for queries – as it is addressed to a program and not a human. Using just the key words would do the job as well. So instead of asking “Why is Google asking me to prove that I am Human?”, just typing “Google, I am Human” would do.

·         Use as few terms as possible – Since all words are used in the search, each additional word limits the search. No need to include America or USA after mentioning New York. Of course, additional words which add context and focus to the query give more relevant results.

·         Using terms that most people tend to use can give better results than strictly correct usage!

·         Use specific terms instead of generic terms – ringtone is a better term to use than sound.


All this just goes to show that there is no point trying to write in perfect sentence – with capitals, punctuations etc – and nor does grammar matters but rather focus on the keywords.



Additional Search Features

·         Use of Double quotes “”Putting double quotes around a set of words implies that you want the search to consider the exact words in the exact order given. The downside of this is the possibly missing of a good result – especially in case of name of person, where various combinations of the first name, initials and surname are used and also in different order. Google clarifies the point using the example, that search using [“Alexander Bell”] would mean pages having Alexander G. Bell would not be considered.


·         site: to Search within a website or a given domain or country. The query [football site:espnstar.com] gives the results only from espnstar.com. The difference between that and using searches like [football espnstar] gives results including web pages that refer to espnstar. Similarly the query [football site:.gov] limits the results to Government domain and the query [football site:.ar] limits the results to sites from Argentina. This feature indeed can be used to get focused views – from different perspectives.


·         Minus sign (-) – Use to exclude the pages with the specific word from the result. For example, the query [Michael –Jackson] excludes all pages that have “Jackson” in it. Note that the search engine is capable of differentiating between this Minus and the hyphen as in “thought-provoking”.  Minus can also be used to exclude pages from a specific website, domain or geography by prefixing it before the “site:” operator.


·         Wildcard (*) – The wildcard * is used to suggest a placeholder – for entire words and not part of it. For example, the search [Right to * site:.in], gives the results that pertain to various right pertaining to India and the search [Amazon *] produces the results that pertain to various products from Amazon – Amazon EC2, Amazon Web Services, Amazon Interactive etc. Indeed as Google mentions, this least known feature can be quite powerful in bringing out information which we never knew or expected.


·         Plus Sign (+) – Search Exactly as is – Google employs synonyms automatically – for e.g., CA is taken as California and sometimes it is not the intent of the searcher. In that case using a + before the word implies that the match for the word should be exactly as given.  Putting double quotes around a single word does the same – but of course the + is far easier to use.


·         OR operator (OR) – With “AND” being the default, the usage of “OR operator” allows you to specifically allow either one of several words. For example, [world cup football 2010 OR 1950] gives results pertaining to “world cup football 2010” or “world cup football 1950”. Symbol “|” can be substituted for OR operator


·         Search box as a Calculator – To use Google’s built-in calculator function, simply enter the calculation into the search box. Enter [5*9+(sqrt 10)^3=] to get “76.6227766”. You can also do unit conversions (without having to know or remember the conversion ratio). For example [100 cm in inches] gives “70.8661417 inches”.


·         Check out http://www.google.com/intl/en/help/features.html#essentials for other simple and useful features.


Search Options

Did you know that you can search for web pages published on specific dates alone? Yes. You can actually search for information over the past 24 hours, past week, year and even specify the date range using “Search options”. You can sort the output by date also – the default sorting being on relevance.


You can limit the searches to display only images, videos, blogs, discussions, products etc. To change the search options, click the filtering option on the results page.


You can use the Search Engine to translate from one language to another. Use the “Language tools” option to get the matching pages in other languages translated to your language and displayed as result. This really could be a very useful option when used well. Say if you are planning to visit another country, you can get the information about it directly from them translated to your language.


Most of these operators are standard one known to us IT people in the programming or tag language context, and so I believe that they would work in the same fashion for other search engines also. So start exploring these simple, yet powerful features and make the search engines work for you more effectively.

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  • There is no such thing as free lunch – Internet based services - Enterprise IT Consultant Views on Technologies and Trends
    [...] Times” and “Sunday Times” paywall being the latest. In an earlier blog http://itknowledgeexchange.techtarget.co…, I had pointed out the information that suggests Google getting into payment mode. [...]
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  • MuraliMusunuri
    Excellent round up of search features applicable to pretty much any search engine. While other search providers like Bing and Yahoo try to catch up with Google, Google keeps throwing out cool features like cleaner interface and more intuition. The search filters can really be made to look complex and the search results more precise using 'regular expressions' (regexp). The search filters that I most frequently use are: "filetype:file extension" - Very useful if I am trying to look for content in a specific format "site:" - Faster if I am searching for some article or information in a huge website like techtarget.com itself. Cheers, Murali Musunuri
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